"Are you gigging much at the moment?"
This is a phrase I used to hear quite often when I first started as a comedian. It was the phrase passed between us new/open-spot acts. It was more a conversation filler for people who didn't know each other and only had their fledgling comedy careers in common. However, over the past few months I have heard this question being asked more and more between established comedians. Although of course there are still many good comedy clubs running, over the past couple of years many have closed down and therefore there is suddenly less work.
Of course, initially I thought it was just me (Jewish/Welsh paranoia) however it does seem to be affecting many comedians.
But why? Why have audience numbers dropped and caused so many venues to close down?
A comedy promoter told me of a phone call he had recently where a potential audience member had rung to book tickets and the first question they had asked was; "Is anyone from the TV going to be on?"
I think this is where the main problem might lay. Now before I go on, as you are no doubt aware, save for the occasional documentaries or little guest spot, I have not performed much on television myself; but this is out of choice. Not mine obviously. Anyway, audiences seem to expect that most of the comedians performing at clubs will have been on at least a panel game show or stand-up show. If not, well what's the incentive to go? Why take a risk? After all, you can always stay home and watch stand-up comedy on TV instead. There's no real difference is there...?
If someone does really want to see live comedy, well then they have the option of spending a little more money and go to see one of the many touring shows which definitely has someone off the telly in it.
Stand up comedy on television is also having an effect on the audiences which do attend clubs; their attention span is much shorter. (Again, I thought this was just me but thankfully it's not.) I assume this is because when you watch stand-up programmes on television, you see a comedian perform for 5 - 10 minutes, before being replaced by another one. Some audiences seem to expect this at live gigs and seem bemused and somewhat cheated when the same comedian is still on stage after 15 minutes.
With the increase of New Act Competitions and Stand-Up Comedy Courses, more and more people are entering the profession - most with a detailed business plan which wouldn't look out of place on Dragon's Den.
But it can't sustain itself. So what's going to happen? As there's no redundancy in comedy (with the exclusion of material) and there's no pension plan, those who haven't been picked up by the telly people will just have to voluntarily work part time or change profession. I know that, personally, if it weren't for my writing work, I would also be looking at other employment
Oh and if any comedian is reading this and wants to come back at me with; "What do you mean, I've never been busier" I obviously wasn't talking about you...